THE line has not been clearly drawn, either in general or by individuals, between true civilization and the various perversions of the civilizing process. This is mainly because we do not fairly face the fact that the process of civilization is entirely according to Nature, and that the perversions which purport to be a direct outcome of civilization are, in point of fact, contradictions or artificialities which are simply a going-over into barbarism, just as too far east is west.
If you suggest “Nature” in habits and customs to most men nowadays, they at once interpret you to mean “beastly,” although they would never use the word.
It is natural to a beast to be beastly: he could not be anything else; and the true order of his life as a beast is to be respected. It is natural to a man to govern himself, as he possesses the power of distinguishing and choosing, With all the senses and passions much keener, and in their possibilities many degrees finer, than the beasts, he has this governing power, which makes his whole nervous system his servant just in so far as through this servant he loyally obeys his own natural laws. A man in building a bridge could never complain when he recognized that it was his obedience to the laws of mechanics which enabled him to build the bridge, and that he never could have arbitrarily arranged laws that would make the bridge stand. In the same way, one who has come to even a slight recognition of the laws that enable him to be naturally civilized and not barbarously so, steadily gains, not only a realization of the absolute futility of resisting the laws, but a growing respect and affection for them.
It is this sham civilization, this selfish refinement of barbarous propensities, this clashing of nervous systems instead of the clashing of weapons, which has been largely, if not entirely, the cause of such a variety and extent of nervous trouble throughout the so-called civilized world. It is not confined to nervous prostration; if there is a defective spot organically, an inherited tendency to weakness, the nervous irritation is almost certain to concentrate upon it instead of developing into a general nervous break-down.
With regard to a cure for all this, no superficial remedy, such as resting and feeding, is going to prove of lasting benefit; any more than a healing salve will suffice to do away with a blood disease which manifests itself by sores on the surface of the skin. No physician would for a moment inveigle himself into the belief that the use of external means alone would cure a skin disease that was caused by some internal disorder. Such skin irritation may be easily cured by the right remedy, whereas an external salve would only be a means of repression, and would result in much greater trouble subsequently.
Imagine a man superficially cured of an illness, and then exposed while yet barely convalescent to influences which produce a relapse. That is what is done in many cases when a patient is rested, and fattened like a prize pig, and then sent home into all the old conditions, with nothing to help him to elude them but a well-fed, well-rested body. That, undeniably, means a great deal for a short period; but the old conditions discover the scars of old wounds, and the process of reopening is merely a matter of time. From all sides complaints are heard of the disastrous results of civilization; while with even a slight recognition of the fact that the trouble was caused by the rudiments of barbarism, and that the higher civilization is the life which is most truly natural, remedies for our nervous disorders would be more easily found.
It is the perversions of the natural process of civilization that do the harm; just as with so-called domesticated flowers there arise coarse abnormal growths, and even diseases, which the wholesome, delicate organism of a wild flower makes impossible.
The trouble is that we do not know our own best powers at all; the way is stopped so effectually by this persistent nervous irritation. With all its superficiality, it is enough to impede the way to the clear, nervous strength which is certainly our inheritance.
After all, what has been said in the foregoing chapters is simply illustrative of a prevalent mental skin-disorder.
If the whole world were suffering from a physical cutaneous irritation, the minds of individuals would be so concentrated on their sensations that no one could know of various wonderful powers in his own body which are now taken as a matter of course. There would be self-consciousness in every physical action, because it must come through, and in spite of, external irritation. Just in so far as each individual one of us found and used the right remedy for our skin-trouble should we be free to discover physical powers that were unknown to our fellow-sufferers, and free to help them to a similar remedy when they were willing to be helped.
This mental skin-disorder is far more irritating and more destructive, and not only leads to, but actually is, in all its forms, a sort of self-consciousness through which we work with real difficulty.
To discover its shallowness and the simplicity of its cure is a boon we can hardly realize until, by steady application, we have found the relief. The discovery and cure do not lead to a millennium any more than the cure of any skin disease guarantees permanent health. For deeper personal troubles there are other remedies. Each will recognize and find his own; but freedom, through and through, can never be found, or even looked for clearly, while the irritation from the skin disease is withdrawing our attention.
Truth is within ourselves: it takes no rise
From outward things; whatever you may believe,
There is an inmost centre in us all
Where truth abides in fulness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect clear perception which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Blinds it, and makes all error; and TO KNOW
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendor may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.”
Browning’s “baffling and perverting carnal mesh” might be truly interpreted as a nervous tangle which is nothing at all except as we make it with our own perverted sight.
To help us to move a little distance from the phantom tangle, that it may disappear before our eyes, has been the aim of this book. So by curing our mental skin-disease as a matter of course, and then forgetting that it ever existed, we may come to real life. This no one can find for another, but each has within himself the way.